From the vaults: A humourous look at past social care stories

Social workers, a radical breed? Some like to think so and bemoan the current crop of box tickers. But is it true, or a myth like horned Viking helmets or a desperate hope like the British Olympic team returning with a haul of medals from Beijing?

Thirty years ago

• The social work strike was on and news pages were filled with tales about departments grinding to a halt. Comcare reporters even filed copy from the country’s picket lines after rising early and travelling great distances, which took some doing as the trains were on strike too.

Staff were out over regrading, which would see many lose money and professional status. Even the book reviews captured the feeling of the times, one prominent title being Social Work: Reform or Revolution?

Directors took to the frontline to keep emergency services going. And joining the bosses in strike-breaking was Community Care with its “Social workers should not strike” editorial.

Backchat has sent the Bolshevik Red Guards to find who was responsible but so far we’re obtaining only denials. Sleep deprivation and denunciations will follow.

Twenty years ago

• David Hasselhoff has many claims to fame: Knight Rider, Baywatch lifeguard, and almost legendary status among barmen for his once-copious capacity. One claim that he is proud of is his part in bringing down the Berlin wall after a 1989 concert in the city where he sang his hit Looking for Freedom.

We don’t want to take anything from “the Hoff”, but we notice that the 24th International Conference on Social Welfare was held in that divided city a year earlier. Perhaps the seeds sown by the award given to the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the Argentine mothers who were campaigning over the disappearance of their children during the 1970s military dictatorship, germinated into full-blown revolt a year later?

But then we read the rest of the agenda: discussions on church-run hospitals, broad definitions of social work and introspection in the NHS.

The glory stays with “the Hoff”.

• But it appears that social work did inspire fear in the hearts of the East German state. Our reporter was stopped by the East German guards after a trip across the border. He was put in the cells, had bright lights blazed into his face and grilled about his notes. Then the poor blighter returned home only to face a more fearsome quizzing from management about his expenses.

Fifteen years ago

• On the principle of believing the opposite of what you read, you might think that social work is as popular as Dixon of Dock Green – but without the blue uniforms – after a perusal of the Daily Mail sticking it to practitioners.

Inspired by LSE professor, Bob Pinker, the Mail was complaining how “the race commissars brainwash our social workers” – note the friendly use of “our”. But it was soon back to form, the friendly “our” was dropped, and Tory social services minister Virginia Bottomley’s attack on social workers for their “political ideology and social engineering” was praised. Bottomley was also ordered to tackle the “mushrooming” race and gender units in Whitehall – you let John Major take over as prime minister and soon the pinkoes are everywhere.

The Mail even laid into the Conservatives for having a minister for women, despite the panjandrum for females being a man – a rather tepid commitment but one too hot for the newspaper. What’s more the Tories were even responsible for the Mental Health Act 1983 and the Children Act 1989, those milestones of social work – even under Margaret Thatcher the pinkoes were in Whitehall.

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